From the former Yugoslavia to Casamance, Inès Senghor’s first novel oscillates between “big” history and particular itineraries

First of all, there is this somewhat enigmatic title, The Honey of the Crab, followed by a first chapter which takes you by surprise when some of the characters we had just met disappear, under the effect of a bombing

From the former Yugoslavia to Casamance, Inès Senghor’s first novel oscillates between “big” history and particular itineraries

First of all, there is this somewhat enigmatic title, The Honey of the Crab, followed by a first chapter which takes you by surprise when some of the characters we had just met disappear, under the effect of a bombing. We are in April 1999 in Yugoslavia at war, alongside a teenager, Téa, who has just lost half of her family.

But the next chapter propels readers into 1960 under the radiant sun of Senegal, the day the country gained independence. The story is embodied this time in the life and family of a schoolboy from the Casamance region, Basile, who at the age of 10 begins to take an interest in the world. On the one hand, we accompany Téa and her father in mourning, trying to escape the conflict via the roads of exile. On the other hand, we will follow Basile throughout a good part of his life journey, from childhood to adulthood.

To these initial protagonists is added throughout the pages a gallery of characters including Aristide, a Senegalese in the prime of life, enlisted against his will as a rifleman in the Second World War. We also have Tierno, his comrade in arms, who enlisted voluntarily and will die at the hands of the Germans. We still see Lazar who, closer to us in time, survives a massacre in Croatia and many other silhouettes.

A new arrival on the literary scene, Inès Senghor, a 39-year-old first-time novelist, offers with Le Miel du crabe, a singular and disconcerting first book, whose primary originality undoubtedly consists of echoing geographical territories rarely brought together in African fiction.

The idea of ​​a new humanity

“I myself was born to a Senegalese father and a Serbian mother,” explains the author, “and I had long felt the urgency of writing about this particular identity growing within me. I also wanted to find a way to provide answers to my 5 year old son's future questions. So I documented myself. I also spoke at length with my father, who comes from a Diola family in Casamance. And I asked my mother about what it meant to date a black man in late 1970s Yugoslavia, because that's where my parents met as students. But when the time came, I preferred fiction to stories, which allowed me to approach certain problems more lightly, without any obligation to tell the truth and without naming those close to me. »

The result is therefore this book evoking each of the two countries, oscillating between individuals as well as temporalities and constantly traversing events from “great” history. A vast literary ambition, but sometimes difficult to maintain as there are so many scenes and moments of variable tension. Like the muffled bass notes in an orchestra, the conflicts are never very far away and make their tragic accents heard: the war in former Yugoslavia responds to the echo of the conflicts which shook the Casamance and to that of the great Western wars .

But the moments of daily life mixing protagonists and personalities from the real world (we see in particular Michael Jackson as a child, passing through for a concert in Dakar within the Jackson Five group!) provide a counterpoint to this perspective, bringing out the idea of 'a world where cultures rub shoulders, learn to know each other and form a community, instead of confronting each other. This idea of ​​a new humanity, capable of producing syncretism and interbreeding, floats between the pages without demonstration or Manichaeism and endures.

The novelist also reserves for the last third of the book a part full of tenderness for the meeting of the Serbian-Senegalese couple formed by the young students Basile and Tamara. Thanks to this fictionalized incarnation of her parents, we willingly let ourselves be drawn into their love story, especially since the latter breaks the “curse of the crab”, finally explained by the novelist in a tale. From sub-Saharan Africa to the Balkans, an atypical and endearing first novel.